A faith of verbs, art, and the woodlands in the spring
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Rituals of beginning

The Bumblehill Studio

Here are wise words on "the creative habit" from the excellent book of that title by choreographer Twyla Tharp:

Igor Stravinsky ms"A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they start their creative day.

"The composer Igor Stravinsky did the same thing every morning when he entered his studio to work: He sat at the piano and played a Bach fugue. Perhaps he needed the ritual to feel like a musician, or the playing somehow connected him to musical notes, his vocabulary. Perhaps he was honoring his hero, Bach, and seeking his blessing for the day. Perhaps it was nothing more than a simple method to get his fingers moving, his motor running, his mind thinking music. But repeating the routine each day in the studio induced some click that got him started."

My own morning ritual (as I've discussed here before) is to take a walk in the woods behind the studio with Tilly, and then to sit among the trees or on the hill with a thermos of coffee, a pen, and a journal for scribbling notes and sketches and early-morning ideas...or else, on those days when I need a lift, with a volume of good poetry instead, which never fails to kickstart my imagination and re-ignite my love of language. Tilly sits or prowls nearby until it's time to head back to the studio. I leave the green as reluctantly as she does, picking a posy of wildflowers along the way. Back at my desk, I usually start the work day by lighting a candle -- a ritual act of muse-summoning; an offering to the Ancestors (all those previous generations of mythic artists whose footsteps I humbly follow in); and a tangible signal that the workday has begun. 'Time to get down to it.

Ritual candle

"In the end," notes Tharp, "there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn't scare you, doesn't shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that's habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started."


Scribbled sketch

And you...? What compels you to start?


I work in my livingroom, or use the bedroom as a storage/studio. I try to have the place clean, one time chores-like hanging curtains, stuff like that-done. Then I finally set down and actually get to work on my drawings, or whatever piece of jewelry I'm trying to finish, or plan out a pot (ceramics). Pretty unweldy way to start, but I work in fits and starts anyway.

I am not very good at the dicipline of writing so I am working on it.Lovely inspiring post Terri.Hope you get on well and look forward one day to a novel as fascinating as the Wood Wife.

the yearning for Beauty....

Thanks for these responses, everyone. And here's a link to an earlier discussion on the related subject of "creative motivation" (from January, before Life Stuff interrupted and took me to NYC and back again): http://windling.typepad.com/blog/2012/01/motivation.html

My surroundings have to be tidy. Then my mind is less frizzy. Aside from that, lately I grasp tiny-moments of creativity, but better something than nothing.

Love the wild tangle on your studio stepts.... I've touched into the Tharpe book briefly last fall, need to again, thanks for the reminder.

I have new rituals now that I have a new studio... but the ones before I get there are the same - coffee goes on automatically, awaking me with its aroma. I sit in the sunshine in the living room with a mug, write in my journal and then check into the blogs that inspire me the most. Once out in the studio, I light sage or incense, usually brew a cup of tea. Sometimes I even need to write more there in the studio notes journal - before I begin making art.

In this transitional time of settling into a new studio, I sometimes have needed only to be in there, organizing shelving and books that have come home from my school bookshelf, rooting into the place and feeling myself in conversation with it. I've noticed how much the new studio is already influencing my work - I've been wanting to make new work for the walls and make books instead of paint at the moment. Oh, off on a tangent here!

That books looks excellent! I had to admit to myself I couldn't work my way through the Artist's Way one more time, although it has helped me tremendously in the past. Thank you for the link.

I had no dedicated studio space for years and years, but I did have a 9x5 room in my house which was dedicated to cats and storage, and when the last cat shuffled off, I cleaned the room out, painted the walls a cheery sunshine yellow, got new curtains and shelves and moved the art desk inside -- it's inspiring all by itself.

It also accommodates a dog bed for my dachshund Georgie, and on sunny days the light hits the bed and he happily stretches out in its warmth.

I also like to flip through my sketchbooks for inspiration and motivation, though the most important thing to get me going is warm chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven and a cup of tea.

Tilly is one very lucky dog.

as much as I like spaces, especially ones where there are plenty of supplies for making, not to mention books, access to music and images themselves---I find that the habit (and habitat) is my own mind. I've had tiny studios, a beautiful made-for-me studio with garden and student trash studios, but to get down to it I can be anywhere. It helps to have some kind of tools at hand but I've spent long periods where I painted in my head, and I think I actually got better. That said I envy your walks with the beautiful hound---I now live in NYC where there are walks but they are populated differently, and find your studio photos lovely and welcoming.

Walks with my dog open up the inspiration of nature which casts its beautiful spell even when besieged. Drawing in my sketchbook at the first opportunity in the day (preferably alone)is my present to myself since my 50th birthday in December.(somewhat like Lois,above)(For this to be followed by painting is a dream still in the making)Over the time of reading your blog you have given me the support to achieve this so freely and i am very grateful to you and wish you well always,all ways.Thank-you so very much.:)

What compells us to start ....... I can feel it in my bones. If I cannot get to the studio I become quite cranky. After 30 years I think I have fallen into the cadence of creativity. A dog by my feet, a good book on cd player, no phone and empty shelves, a very good place to begin. I also carry a pocket recorder with me; if I become stuck I listen to recordings of past ideas, always fuel for the fire.
Wonderful blog!

i never feel like i am starting, only continuing. i just drop whatever i am doing when it no longer feels like its appropriate and go do something else. seems like an endless loop. walking, wondering writing, stitching, what ever it is it seems like one big thing.

How to Begin, A Poem

A cup of tea, not long in its soaking,
more like angel piss, my husband used to say.
Two dried dates, sweet in the mouth.
A thread of poem winding me back into the lair,
past the minotaur who would stop me.
Or a hair in the mouth that needs to be spit out
to keep the wicked fairies at bay.
The small copse of walnut trees through the window
reminding me of growth and decay, two foxes denning
in the basement of the barn beyond, looking my way.
The call of a cardinal, the performance of an oriol,
the brashness of a jay. The clown prince,
that ever-ready gray squirrel, caprioling along the deck.
I sew the thread of poem onto the page.
Without realizing it, I have already begun.


I know my workflow (terrible word, but fitting) would be much smoother and my output (again, terrible word) much higher if my work space was tidy and clean. Unfortunately I'm very messy and hate to clean up. The pile of things on my desk has (again..) reached a height of over 25cm, burying my university papers and knitting stuff under it.
So, in a perfect world, the routine starts in the evening when I clean up my desk and put everything work-related where I can find it easily and without much ado. In the morning there will be a big mug of black tea (same cup since 3, same tea since 11 years) and then straight to work. If I did something else first, there would be nothing done at all.

I've had a really tough time creating and sticking to a creative ritual and I've wondered if it's the circumstances that have prevented focus: I live in a small NYC apartment and my room is both bedroom and studio space, which never fully feels like either, it's jarring. I've left supplies out for inspiration and felt like a failure when I don't pick them up, and hidden them away in cupboards with less expectation only to forget about them. I work a demanding day job and it's hard to take time in the morning to myself, but I'm often depleted in the evening. Where is the time and space to create? This is what really vexes me. I'm setting a goal for June to not schedule any plans on my evenings and weekends, to avoid the TV and computer and to open up my time and see what happens. Can I start to find a space and a ritual that draws me in? Terri, how did you first develop this space and practice? Any advice for those of us struggling?

It's when my heart cracks so far open it escapes upon pages threading its way away from and back to it's keeper.

I love this!!!!

Very good questions, Christina. I'm off to Exeter (our nearest city) today, but I'll try to post on this topic later this week.

If you have the time, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Have a nice time in Exeter!

Lovely, the morning walk and the candle-summoning.

I struggle with setting aside beginning-space - tend to get wrapped up in the habitual "necessity" of accomplishing everything else first.

Lately, though, I've come to understand more about the importance of beginnings and how beginning-ness is tied throughout every step of everything... (http://www.smyeryu.com/wendy/posts/beginning-again-all-the-time/)

I really need to figure out something that works for me... Thanks for the reminder!

I'm still working out my thoughts on this, Christina -- I haven't forgotten you!

It sounds like Georgie is too!

Aw shucks. *blush*

Jude, I love that image, and am going to try to reflect on it in my own work. Thank you.

Thank you, everyone, for these thoughtful responses.

No worries! I know you are a busy lady and despite that, a very generous blogger. :)

Jane and Terri, can I print out a copy of this poet to remind me that when I've missed a few days (like now) and start thinking that my work is not so good, that it's just the minotaur I have to get by? I really like that image and the poem....

I start my day with a cup of tea too, as my computer boots up, then sit down and start writing. I try to keep it really simple, and direct, so that I move from sleep to the kitchen and the computer waiting for me. It's a new ritual, and I really like it.

I don't know if Jane will check this comment thread, but I'm sure it's fine, Susan, if you're simply printing it out for personal use.

Your ritual sounds a whole lot like mine used to be when I lived in my old stone cottage (if you substitute coffee for tea), which was pre-marriage and pre-dog. Now I move from sleep to kitchen to dog-walk to computer...but since my husband and I don't meet up until lunch-time, my mornings are silent (except talking to Tilly) and I can stay in that dreamy creative space. It's how I, too, work best.

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